Tualatin's Jacob Bennett and Sherwood's Zak Taylor shine among the best

Photo Credit: DAN BROOD - TWO OF A KIND -- Tualatin High School senior-to-be Jacob Bennett (left) and Sherwood senior-to-be Zak Taylor are both playing in the Area Codes Games this week in California. TUALATIN — Next spring, when the Tualatin and Sherwood high school baseball teams clash in a Three Rivers League series, it’s going to be a full-out battle.

Jacob Bennett will be on one side, the Timberwolf side.

And Zak Taylor will be on the other side, playing for the Bowmen.

It could be the same situation in the spring of 2016, when Bennett potentially could be playing for the University of Oregon baseball team, and Taylor may be suiting up for Oregon State University.

But, for this summer at least, they’ve been teammates.

Teammates, that is, playing a high caliber of baseball and teammates traveling the west coast, playing the sport they love.

“I can never get too much baseball,” Bennett said with a smile after he and Taylor completed a bullpen pitching session last week at Tualatin High School. “It’s been awesome.”

“I’ve never traveled as much I have this summer,” added Taylor, a Sherwood High School senior-to-be.

Well, the baseball and the traveling will be continuing for both Bennett and Taylor, as they’ve been selected to play in the prestigious Area Code Games, which started earlier this week and run through Saturday at Blair Field in Long Beach, Calif.

The event features eight teams, all representing Major League Baseball clubs, from eight regions around the country. Bennett and Taylor will both be playing for a team from the northwest region, representing the Kansas City Royals.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Bennett, a Tualatin High senior-to-be.

“We’re going to be playing with guys that are going to be drafted,” Taylor said.

The local dynamic duo earned their spot on the Royals team at a tryout held at PK Park in Eugene.

“It was a whole pro workout type of thing,” Taylor said. “Guys from all over the Pacific Northwest were there. There were a lot of players from the Seattle area.”

“And there were a lot of MLB scouts there,” Bennett added. “We got to meet a ton of people.”

Photo Credit: DAN BROOD - BRINGING IT -- Jacob Bennett, a Tualatin High School senior-to-be, fires in a pitch during last week's bullpen session. Bennett has given a verbal commitment to play college baseball at the University of Oregon. Taylor earned his spot on the team as a catcher/utility player. That seems to be fitting, as, in his three years playing at Sherwood, he’s excelled wherever he’s played on the field — first base, shortstop, third base, pitcher and, maybe most of all, at catcher.

“I’ll play wherever,” Taylor said.

This past spring, as a Sherwood junior, Taylor was a first-team All-Northwest Oregon Conference selection as a catcher and a second-team Class 5A all-state selection as a pitcher.

On the mound, Taylor put together a 7-0 record with a 1.17 ERA. He gave up 37 hits while striking out 50 batters and walking only five in 42 innings pitched. He also had a big year at the plate, hitting for a .355 batting average with nine doubles and two home runs while helping the Bowmen win the NWOC title and advance to the semifinal round of the Class 5A state playoffs.

Meanwhile, Bennett, earned his spot on the Royals’ Area Code Games team as a pitcher.

He certainly had a big spring on the mound as a Tualatin junior, as he was named both the Pacific Conference and Class 6A Pitcher of the Year.

The tall, hard-throwing right-hander had a 9-1 record with a school record earned-run average of 0.35. He also had 101 strikeouts in a school-record 80 innings of work, as he helped the Wolves win the Pacific Conference crown and advance all the way to the semifinal round of the Class 6A state playoffs.

Bennett and Taylor actually started their summer as teammates playing for the northwest chapter of the high-level Evoshield Canes baseball club — with Bennett pitching and Taylor playing at catcher.

“It’s been real interesting,” Bennett said. “That’s a real good team, and it’s been a great experience.”

The team, which also included Tualatin’s Karter Cook and Tanner Marsh, played in events all around the northwest, including many up in the Seattle area.

Photo Credit: DAN BROOD - CATCHING ON -- Zak Taylor, a Sherwood High School senior-to-be, grabs for the ball during a bullpen session last week. Taylor has given a verbal commitment to play college baseball at Oregon State University. The Canes also played in tournaments in Oakland, Calif., and in Arizona.

“Those were big-time tournaments,” Taylor said. “We got to go up against some great competition. We grew and got better.”

Bennett didn’t make the trip to Oakland, but, at the tournament in Arizona, he got to meet 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks World Series hero Luis Gonzalez.

“I got to talk to him,” Bennett said. “That was pretty cool.”

Bennett and Taylor’s summer of baseball will continue past the Area Code games, going into the fall. They’ve both been selected to play in the Mariners Cup, an all-star doubleheader that will played in Seattle’s Safeco Field in the end of August.

Taylor will continue playing with his Mariners Cup squad, as part of the Mariners Fall Scout team. That should make for a busy fall for Taylor, who, playing at tight end and linebacker, has already been named a captain for the 2014 Sherwood football squad.

Meanwhile, Bennett will be heading to Florida in October as part of the Evoshield team that will be playing in the World Wood Bat Classic.

“I just want to keep getting better,” Bennett said.

And Bennett and Taylor insist that they’re helping each other improve.

“It’s cool working out together,” Bennett said.

“I think we’re all making each other better,” Taylor said.

Bennett and Taylor have each receive plenty of other appreciated help — from their respective families.

“My mom and dad are the best,” Bennett said. “They make sure I have these opportunities. My family and friends are awesome. I know my dad wants to be at every game.”

“My parents have always been behind me,” Taylor said. “They’ll do anything for me for baseball. My parents have worked so hard for me, that gives you more of a reason to want to do better.”

Similarities aside, Bennett and Taylor have also been competitors — for a long time.

“We played against each other for the state championship back in fourth grade,” Bennett said.

“I’ve grown up playing against him,” Taylor said.

That competitive spirit will very likely carry over to the spring of 2015, where Bennett and Taylor will clash on the high school baseball diamond.

“We’ll be competitive,” Taylor said. “I know Karter will be talking about it for sure.”

“I know that when I see Zak, he’ll come to play,” Bennett said.

That scenario could also happen at the collegiate level.

Bennett, during his junior year, verbally committed to play college baseball at the University of Oregon.

Just a few weeks ago, Taylor verbally committed to play at Oregon State University.

“I visited Oregon and Oregon State the same day,” Taylor said. “And I got offers from both. I liked both, but needed to see myself where I could play, and that was Oregon State.”

“I didn’t know about that until later in the day,” Bennett said of Taylor’s commitment. “I would have given him a hard time. I’ve talked to Cooper (Brunner) about that, too.”

Brunner, a 2014 Tualatin grad, signed to play at Oregon State University as an outfielder.

But, as it looks right now, Bennett and Taylor will be college opponents.

“That will be fun,” Taylor said. “Playing together in the summer and against each other in high school and then in Pac-12 baseball.”

But, those plans could be swayed a bit — by the June 2015 Major League Baseball draft.

“That’s in the back of our minds,” Taylor said. “Especially for Bennett. He’s thrown a great summer.”

“The draft is in our minds,” Bennett said. “But we just want to keep working to get better. Zak works harder than anyone I know, and it’s always good to see a friend succeed.”

Well, no matter what paths the future holds, it’s very likely that Bennett and Taylor will both fondly look back on their baseball-filled summer of 2014.

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